PDXplained: Here’s What Makes the Sunnyside School Special, And Controversial

“What makes the Sunnyside Environmental School different? Is it still a PPS magnet school?”

Reader Olivia Dwinell asked us that question for our Sunnyside edition of PDXplained. Here’s what we found out:

THE SCHOOL

The Sunnyside Environmental School opened in 1994 as a magnet school (or “focus school”) that specializes in giving students a hands-on education.

Students learn history by performing musicals and discussing how they’d rewrite them to tell a fuller story. They study food systems by growing vegetables and raising chickens in the school’s garden. And they spend a lot of time outside in nature, an approach that has helped make SES one of the district’s most popular focus schools.

THE LOTTERY

In theory, any K-8 student in Portland can attend Sunnyside Environmental School by applying for admission through an annual lottery. In reality, it’s nearly impossible for lottery applicants to get in.

That’s because students who live in the Sunnyside neighborhood are guaranteed admission to SES, and those neighborhood students take almost all the available spots.

As a result, SES is consistently more affluent and less racially diverse than the average Portland school — and that’s causing some controversy.

THE CONTROVERSY

Teachers and administrators at SES have urged Portland Public Schools to do away with its enrollment guarantee for neighborhood students and make room for more lottery students from across the district.

They argue that moving toward a true lottery system would help make the school accessible for all Portland families, regardless of whether they can afford to live in Sunnyside.

The neighborhood preference policy survived a round of sweeping changes to the lottery system five years ago, but in 2016, a PPS spokesperson said that further reform is still “on the table.”

Want to weigh in? Email the school board, tweet at @PPSConnect on Twitter, or email the district’s interim equity advisor Dani Ledezma.